Dark Places - Exhibition
Dark Places Database on Display

Photos - Steve Shrimpton

"Dark Places uncovers sites of secrecy and technology across Britain presenting a range of new works by artists that explore spaces and institutions below the radar of common knowledge. The exhibitition examines how artists are evolving strategies for art as a form of knowledge production, challenging accepted patterns in contemporary culture and society." Arts Catalyst

The Office of Experiments’ (OOE) Overt Research Project set a background for the exhibition Dark Places as it seeks to question the way in which techno-scientific and industrial-military complex are constanlty engaged in an attempt to educate the public. In some cases utilising artists, the power players in this field of endeavour are the significant partners in a set of power relations that are seldom challenged. Creating a myriad of heterotopias which exclude the outside world, a set of imaginary narratives is then produced by a public which is in fact only part informed by fact, with conspiracy, rumour and marketing filling in gaps of knowledge.

The Overt Research Project therefore examines the role that the Museum and cultural production in general has in terms of contested spatial imaginaries, and seeks to question the language and framing of 'art as a political aesthetic', drawing from work of theorists such as Ranciere, Latour and Rheinberger. Methods are drawn from experimental geography - and are spatio-temporal - focussing on that which is observable, in the context of place at a given moment.

In practical terms, the project maps and records advanced labs and facilities that are unwittingly – or purposefully – concealed from the public. Developed by a team of independent researcher over 18 months, fieldwork and experimental techniques were combined to create an online geo-mapped database; 'Dark Places - South Edition'. This field guide to local sites was available in the physical site of the information kiosk in Gallery 1 of the exhibit, as many of the sites are classified as 'secret', so this was the first stage of 'consultation', before we put the database online - see Resources. The audience were invited to take part in their own research with the help of an OOE toolkit inside the catalogue.Many chose to take part in this process through the Bus Tour (see below). The installed work featured a high resolution interpretive slideshow with audio from Kelverdon Hatch .

Elsewhere in the gallery, OOE questioned the closed culture that pervades so much 'official' research activity, instead drawing on approaches that reflect the openness of knowledge proposed by autonomous and independent campaigners. The Mike Kenner Archive is part of the ARC (Autonomours Researcher Collection) Further information is available in resources.

Further to this, in Dark Places, Steve Rowell exhibited work from his project Ultimate High Ground. Victoria Halford and Steve Beard exhibited a new film Voodoo Science Park that traced a secret geography, political and physical, of the Health and Safety Laboratory in Derbyshie. Beatriz da Costa 'Memorial for the Still Living'was also commsioned. A display on endangered species of the British Isles, it includes a selection of rare animal, insect and reptile specimens, including loans from the Natural History and Horniman Museums, da Costa identifies these collections – and the bleak future they imply - as sites of hidden knowledge.

The Cold War Legacy in the South - Secrecy and Technology bus tour.
Saturday 23 January 2010 10am-6pm.

Artists from the Office of Experiments led a 'spatio-temporal' investigation in the shape of a bus tour - so successful it was sold out many times over, and there is a waiting list for future tours. Taking in critical sites of advanced technological development in the South of England, the tour focused on sites that emerged during the tensions and paranoias of the Cold War. Sites visited included: Chilboton Observatory, Porton Down, RAF Boscombe Down, ROC Underground Bunker, International School of Explosives Education (ISEE) at Department of Homeland Security (lunch) at Chilmark, Nuclear Bunker Chilmark, Signals Museum, Blandford Camp.

Media and films played throughout the day covering mainly conspiracy theory and rumour that surrounds these sites.

For more information and experinces on the Bus Tour, see:

Arts Catalyst
New Scientist
Angela Last

Editiorial for GeoForum.

Tales from the ARC